I am a forcefully progressive guy- thus the title and branding of this blog and media outlet. And as a progressive, I tend to have very liberal leanings- particularly on matters of artistic expression, self-identification, and the framing of cultural values discussions. But I have been having some doubts lately that maybe I have gone too far and I doubt that I am the only one. I’m a middle aged guy and I have procreated aggressively in my time- the one thing that I have in common with President Fuckface. That means that I have children that are adults and I have children that are still children. So the span of time and the range of media influence in the lives of my children has run from the early 90’s with my eldest daughter to the present day with my youngest. Suffice to say that a lot has changed since then and my liberal reflexes may be out of step with the times. The picture below would have been one that I could have only seen if I would have stolen my old man’s Penthouse Magazine from the shoe box in his closet. Now it is an ad for a prime-time TV show on one of the big three networks.
Technology and the ferocious competition for clicks and views has driven us to a place where what was once risqué is now commonplace and dreary. What is on network television now at prime time used to be reserved for cable networks’ late night programming and sometimes even adult cable networks. To be crystal clear, I am cool with free expression and sexuality free from social judgment. I wouldn’t put any restrictions on anybody because I wouldn’t allow any to be put on me. The challenge is trying to balance that freedom with what gets through the eye-gate of our little people while they are still figuring out who they are, what they like, and forming their own sense of right and wrong.
I have come to believe that they need a lot more room and a lot more time than we are giving them these days. They are getting a lot of pressure to identify themselves and start connecting before their formation is really complete. And the influences pressuring them are present all day every day in the palm of their hands. We used to be able to shut out the world by just turning a television channel or shutting it off altogether. Those were the days. But those days are long gone.
I confess that I have done a really bad job of guarding that eye-gate for my own children and now I wonder what the cost may be. But I always had what felt like a rock solid justification built into my politics. My rationalization was that because I don’t believe in attaching social judgment to sexuality or morality regarding what goes on between consenting adults, depictions in film and television merely expressed and exposed the human sexuality that they would encounter when they went out into the world. Besides, if all of the other kids are watching and seeing these programs, my kids will need to know what is going on whether they endorse the conduct being depicted or not, right? I stood on that argument for years while images like this sunk into my kids’ subconscious mind. Bad, dad.
And that rationale sounded just fine until I saw my own son openly express lust for an image on television while sitting right next to me- with his mother and his grown up sister just six feet away. I realized then that maybe it wasn’t wise to let him watch every single episode of Seth McFarland’s notoriously profane and nearly pornographic animated hit sitcom The Family Guy.
Then I wondered if it might have been unwise to let my older son watch every single episode of The Soprano’s with me while he was in high school. The only element of that show that was as striking as the graphic violence was the graphic sexual content. And my boy saw it all. And the most embarrassing confession of all is that my grown up daughter has consumed every single episode of that rancid cultural abomination known as Keeping Up With The Kardashians. Clearly, I consider an orgy of stupidity as potentially damaging as an orgy of bodies having group sex. And what is really scary is that the commercials are often even worse than the shows. The only reason these kids are not completely bugged out is God must have decided I’d taken my lumps in other areas of life so He spared me the torture of raising kids who couldn’t consume media without being compelled to emulate the images. So I lucked up- especially since this is how they sold Skittles a few years ago.
But the lesson and the solution comes in where it relates to my youngest daughter. She’ll be entering middle school soon and despite the fact that she has Netflix and a television in her room, she has never seen nor heard of any of the shows mentioned above. She thinks that Real Housewives are women like her mother and her aunts- not those caricatures on Bravo. Why? Because it actually takes effort to guard that eye-gate and her mother guards it like a grizzly bear on steroids. What guys like me have been doing for years is hiding our lazy parenting behind seemingly high-minded political and philosophical arguments. Of course my son is going to have a reaction if he sees Taraji P. Henson ass naked in the shower.
He actually cursed under his breath at the camera angle for letting a plant obscure his full view of her glory. And Taraji is the same age as his mother. That’s a problem and it ain’t Lee Daniels’ directing- its me. Not because my boy had a reaction to that visual stimulus, but because he felt completely free in expressing it in full eye-shot and earshot of three grown people. And he is quite a well mannered and respectful 14 year old. How would one these other knuckleheads out here have handled that heat? It could have been ugly.
Since I cannot put that genie back in the bottle, let me encourage you to do your best to keep yours from getting out and running free in your children’s minds. I allowed a free for all environment and even though my older children are great, there is an underlying lack of reverence that gives me some pause about the day when that bill comes due. I may not be around to help them navigate the challenges or negotiate better terms. And they’ll need me to do that since I left them to their own devices so early on.
Don’t get me wrong: Taraji looks great in this shot. This is too much heat for most men to handle so its way too much for my son. Ignoring those parental warnings for years probably wasn’t the best idea. I would do it quite differently if I had a chance- progressive politics be damned.